Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Remembrance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
- John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), in a speech at the White House, 1962

I write this on the eve of Remembrance Day, 2010, as PM Harper flies to South Korea for a repeat performance of the G20, as three days of testimonies unfold in Toronto and Montreal to question RCMP conduct, and the government continues to refuse a public inquiry into the G20. This judicial inquiry is morally imperative as it would enable the federal court to subpoena evidence from witnesses under oath to knit together the patchwork of incriminating evidence, establish the chain of command of policing during the G20, and finally assign culpability. Both parties are standing firm- this all-encompassing inquiry must not be allowed happen. It may be the only issue they agree upon at this time, having closed ranks to goose-step around civil liberties. Meanwhile, PM Harper is fiddling while Rome burns, selling more of our assets to multinationals in South Korea. Has it occurred to him that Canada is not his to sell?

I dedicate this article to my grandfather, who fought in the First World War, and was one of the few who survived the air force. He came back so shell-shocked that if his family spoke while he drove, he had to pull over to the side of the road to calm down. Within my extended family, several members have been awarded Orders of Canada for public service. I am, however, a vilified ‘protester’, as I believe that there must be a full inquiry into the G8/G20 Summit so that both levels of government are forced to be responsible for the gross abuse of police power, violation of civil liberties and powers of taxation, and desecration of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the Charter cannot defend its own constitution and abrogation of civil rights, it is a constitution no longer.

It is exactly one week since I witnessed the voting down of the second reading of Bill 121, a public interest investigation into the G8/G20 Summit tabled by Welland’s NDP MPP, Peter Kormos, by 8 'ayes' to 28 'neas' in Queen’s Park. Upon the resounding ‘nea’ across the floor by the consolidated Liberals and Conservatives, there was a unanimous, audible gasp by those in the peanut gallery. Included in that singular voice was my own, and within an hour, having sped away on my round legs, I was listening to Chris Hedges talk about his new book, “The Death of the Liberal Class” at the Munk School for Global Affairs. His lecture was a play-by-play of what I had seen at Queen’s Park, and spoke directly to me.

Could it be, according to Chris Hedges, that the liberal left - unions, churches and universities, progressive political parties, and the press - has lost moral suasion as a guiding voice for democratic dialogue? Have we abandoned our moral compass in favour of corporate elitism? And have we allowed the gutting of ethics, and the erosion of civil liberties, for financial gain? As I watched the provincial NDP fight back at Queen’s Park, and be mocked for their efforts by the opposing parties, I thought no- it is worse- citizens’ rights are being viewed with contempt as they contest the streamlining of economic interests, the growing division between the rich and poor, and the destruction of the environment. As Chris Hedges notes, without a robust liberal voice to engage in this debate, there is a very real danger that things will degrade into violence as the middle and working classes become increasingly disenfranchised, angry and confused. Internationally, general strikes rage, generated by falsely imposed austerity measures imposed by the banks, and Chris Hedges predicts that the US, then Canada, will be next, on the front line. A cynical friend said that no doubt the Conservatives had a contingency fund for legal challenges as part of their G20 bottom line, a line item right after their $500, 000 worth of delegate party favours -glow sticks, hand sanitizer, and $100 pens.

At Queen’s Park, throughout the presentation of the bill, I was distressed by the disregard the opposition had for the NDP. They held extended conversations during their presentation, loud enough to be heard by me in the upper gallery, to show their displeasure at the possibility of the second reading of Bill 121. For me, as a Canadian citizen, it was a momentous historical occasion, for the Liberals and Conservatives, it was a $1.3 billion farce of the highest order, worthy of a William Hogarth cartoon - when Peter Kormos mentioned the editorial in the Star demanding a formal inquiry, a Liberal MPP turned to the fashion section, searching for it there. I watched her. A MPP from the Muskoka region, Garfield Dunlop, mentioned the success of the G8 in Huntsville, although I heard how golfers were losing balls off the green, and militia were crawling out of the brush, holding the golf ball up, and warning them not to hit off the fairway again.

I have always been wary of publicity stunts on the Ontario Parliament Network, the official channel of the provincial legislature, but I was glad that it was recording and broadcasting this debate for posterity, ignored as it was by the opposition. MPPs, please be aware that you are being observed. I have heard how the intellectual level of discourse, as transcribed in the Hansard, the official record, is the lowest it has ever been historically, but the resounding speeches of NDP MPPs, Peter Kormos, Andrea Horwath, and Cheri DiNovo , showed courage, a monumental standing up for the underdog. As I left the gallery, I made the universal symbol for typing to Cheri DiNovo. I will transcribe my own citizen’s Hansard of events, and I will remember this travesty of justice in the defense of the Charter, and my grandfather, who fought for a kinder, gentler Canada, and my right to protest. During the G20, police erased incriminating photographs on iPhones by resetting the factory settings to default, and stomping on memory cards, to erase incriminating evidence of police brutality. I refuse to let these memories be erased, but I am a pacifist, and want to believe that the Charter can rise to its own defense.

Later, at the lecture, deeply shaken, I asked Chris Hedges about the vilification of protesters, and he spoke of having his microphone cut off, twice, during a lecture, and being escorted off a university campus. The press reported that he had created a riot, and the university sent him his coat by mail. Protesters, intellectuals, academics, environmentalists- these are all epithets, just as a Liberal MP pointed out the eloquence of Peter Kormos was due to his background as a lawyer during the Bill 121 debate. Those who ask for educated discussion are discredited to enable bigotry and prejudice, as PM Harper plays his role as ideologue to evade facts, discourage analysis, and hold court through emotion. Elitists, treehuggers, latte-sippers, lefties, union members - these have all become dirty words – just read the comments section online, and see how democratic discourse has descended into name calling, supported by this new form of government.

There will be no justice until there is a public inquiry, which ties together the disparate inquiries into a coherent series of events enabled by a chain of command, and yes, assigns blame. We deserve to know what happened, and not to be distracted by the pomp and circumstance of yet another G20 Summit, quick on the heels of our own. Regulation 233/10, the five meter fence rule, will lead right back to the Premier McGuinty’s office, then to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Investigation of this fallacious law will prove PM Harper’s desire to cut away the backbone of peaceful resistance by targeting caring, educated and engaged youth to ensure their future political passivity. The young woman, hit by rubber bullets, may never return to Toronto, and sadly, these memories of the state of martial law have changed a generation's perception of police. As an educator, I will never forget this deliberate humiliation of over eleven hundred protesters, and as a citizen, I will never forget that my grandfather fought for naught, because I can be taxed to the hilt to have my civil liberties suspended for a political spectacle enabling police brutality, and civilian abuse. Canada is not safer since the Summits and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been allowed to be put into question, and with that, the fundamental rights of every citizen. Shame.

Hedges, Chris. The Death of the Liberal Class. New York: Nation, 2010. Print.
Theo Moudakis, Opinion in Toronto Star, Public Inquiry November 1st, link at
Krystalline Kraus, "Activist Communique: Ontario G20 inquiry public members bill failed to pass second reading and the Summit cost totals", ‏link at
The Hansard, November 4th,